The Swamp Vanishes – A digital exhibition


A casualty of ‘exigeant and remorseless modern civilization’


Before European settlers arrived in Port Phillip district, a large wetland that lay between the Yarra River and the Moonee Ponds Creek sustained the life and cultural traditions of the Kulin nation.


It was known by European settlers as Batman’s Swamp, later West Melbourne Swamp, While some people saw it as a thing of beauty, within a few short years the swamp was noisome and reviled, and talk began of draining and reclamation. By the end of the century significant engineering works had changed the very shape of the land.

A feature of the land which had sustained Aboriginal people for millennia prior to European settlement in 1835 became a refuge for the down and out during the 1930s depression.

‘Reclamation’ works continued until the wetland is now represented by the Dynon Road Tidal Canal, parallel to Dynon Road, and a small wetland reserve.


This exhibition traces how a significant wetland vanished from sight.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors are warned that this exhibition contains images of deceased persons.


The RHSV also warns that there might be words and descriptions quoted that could be culturally sensitive and which might not normally be used in public or community contexts. Words and descriptions that reflect the authors and the historical period in which the item was written, may be considered inappropriate today.


Click on the images to explore the exhibition online.

Early Maps of the Port Phillip District


West Melbourne Swamp as a 'Salt Lake'

A Picturesque Lagoon

The problem of the swamp

Maps and Plans 1880-1935

Refuge for the Homeless

The Jack Wetherly painting

The William Barak Painting

Maps - 1846 & 1852

The Yarra Changes

The Swamp and the Press

A Kulin Estate

Animals of the swamp

A view from the gasworks

The Swamp in Photographs

The Swamp Vanishes


The Swamp Vanishes

Lenore Frost

Curatorial Support:
Richard Barnden
David Thompson

Original exhibition displayed January 2020 – January 2021

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria holds the copyright on these entries. Please contact us for permission to use the information.

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Poster designed by Daisy Searls. 

The design is from an etching by Julian Ashton Rossi, based on the 1841 watercolour by Georgiana McCrae, included in the exhibition panel ‘A Picturesque Lagoon’. 

Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria Collection